The Green party has slammed a decision by the European Parliament to increase office expenses by 1,500 euros, saying this is wrong-headed at a time of austerity.
Parliamentarians say they need the extra money
Allowances for European Parliament lawmakers were set to become even more generous after the assembly's budget committee decided on Thursday that an extra 1,500 euros ($2,100) per month should be available for the 736 members to hire office staff.
The Greens budgetary spokeswoman, German politician Helga Trüpel, said lawmakers were "clearly out of touch with fiscal realities" and claimed the "irresponsible vote sends completely the wrong signal" to cash-strapped people across the continent.
The decision will increase the overall parliamentary budget by almost 13.25 million euros this year.
Lawmakers say they need extra help to handle the additional legislative powers acquired as a result of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force in late 2009.
Office allowances were already increased by 1,500 euros last year. But in a report, the assembly's secretariat said another raise was warranted to give deputies the means to hire an extra assistant.
A parliament spokesman said the conservative European People's Party as well as the Socialists and Democrats backed the move, while liberals, left-wingers and Trüpel's Green group opposed it.
Out of touch with age of austerity
Trüpel says MEPs are out of touch and acting irresponsibly
"In this period of budgetary constraint, MEPs need to realize that they simply cannot vote to systematically increase spending for new budget lines without reducing spending in other areas," Trüpel said in a statement.
Last year an austerity drive led by British Prime Minister David Cameron curbed the 2011 EU budget rise to 2.91 percent, down from the 6 percent proposed by the European Commission and the European Parliament.
European Parliament MPs are paid 7,956.87 euros gross per month, about 300 euros for each day they turn up to work in Brussels or Strasbourg, and another 19,709 euros per month already set aside before the increase for staff and other office expenses.
The EU assembly is also often criticized for having its offices split between Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, which in 2009 added over 230 million euros to its running costs, according to the parliament's own calculations.
But lawmakers are powerless to change that particular setup, as it is inscribed in EU treaties that can be amended only by a unanimous decision, and France has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to let go of the Strasbourg seat.
Author: Natalia Dannenberg (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton